Intellectual Terrain: Asian Operations

A legal battle centered around patent licensing and royalty payments began in 2017 between the two tech giants, Apple Inc. and Qualcomm. The conflict began in 2017 when Apple filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm, alleging that Qualcomm was charging unfair royalties for technologies it didn’t directly contribute to, such as Apple’s own innovations in mobile devices. Apple accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in the market for wireless modem chips, which are crucial components in smartphones and other mobile devices.

In response, Qualcomm countersued Apple, claiming that Apple was infringing on its patents and seeking import bans on iPhones. The legal battle escalated, with multiple lawsuits filed in various jurisdictions worldwide, including China. The conflict between Apple and Qualcomm spanned several years and involved multiple lawsuits in various countries. However, in April 2019, both companies reached a surprise settlement, dropping all litigation worldwide. As part of the settlement, Apple agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to Qualcomm and entered into a six-year licencing agreement, including a multi-year chipset supply agreement. This settlement effectively resolved the dispute between the two companies. It is one of Asia’s most high-profile cases of intellectual property violations. 

Protecting intellectual property (IP) is a critical concern for businesses operating in Asia, given the region’s hosting of some of the world’s largest and rapidly expanding economies. Intellectual property encompasses inventions, patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, all representing valuable assets requiring safeguarding against infringement or unauthorised use.

While effective IP protection is crucial for businesses to maintain a competitive edge, attract investment, and secure market share in Asia’s dynamic business landscape, it is not without its challenges. The region’s weak enforcement mechanisms, lack of transparency, and limited legal recourse pose significant hurdles. Understanding and preparing for these challenges is essential for businesses considering expansion into Asia.

The intricate and varied legal framework governing IP protection across Asian countries, characterised by differing laws and regulations, further complicates matters for businesses with operations spanning multiple jurisdictions. Nevertheless, enterprises adept at navigating these hurdles stand to capitalise on the abundant growth and innovation opportunities offered by the Asian market.

China, Japan, South Korea, and India have comprehensive intellectual property (IP) laws covering patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. In China, the Patent Law governs both invention and utility model patents, while the Trademark Law and Copyright Law safeguard registered trademarks and creative works, respectively. Japan’s IP laws include the Patent Act, the Trademark Act, and the Copyright Act. 

South Korea’s IP laws closely resemble those of Japan and China, with provisions for invention and utility model patents under the Patent Act and protection for trademarks and creative works under the Trademark Act and Copyright Act, respectively. In India, the Patent Act covers invention and utility model patents, the Trade Marks Act protects registered trademarks, and the Copyright Act safeguards creative works. 

Furthermore, disparities in patentability standards across Asian countries impact businesses’ ability to secure and enforce patents, thereby affecting innovation and competitiveness in the market. 

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